Traditional Focus Groups or Online Focus Groups: The Choice is Yours

A focus group is a common methodology used in market research. A focus group involves a small group of people coming together at a location to share needs, preferences, opinions, and experiences about a specific product or service. The facilitator of the discussion, called the moderator, leads the discussion. The goal is often gaining insight for the company through spoken feedback of consumers and potentially B2B professionals.

Typically focus groups are held at a brick and mortar location, often times a focus group facility, where the participants and moderator are allocated a room to conduct the discussion panel.

Like any market research methodology, in-person focus groups have advantages and disadvantages.

Traditional Focus Groups or Online Focus Groups: The Choice is Yours

Choosing between a traditional focus group or online focus group? Consider these advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages to Traditional Focus Groups

Conducting market research in an intimate setting with participants can yield valuable insight about a product or service, allowing the company to adjust their marketing or product before a costly launch. Also, a focus group allows the organization to interact with a group of participants by virtue of a moderator creating a dialogue. The group dynamic is a benefit not offered by individual interviews.

Focus groups allow for individual responses, participant interaction, and clarification of discussions. These are often spin-offs from an initial question to the group.

In-person interaction is valuable when it comes to traditional focus groups. Not only can the researcher learn about participant needs, preferences, and experiences, but they can also notice nonverbal cues that can also provide valuable insight about the consumer.

Disadvantages to Traditional Focus Groups

There are specific fees for renting a focus group facility including recording fees, audio files, parking, meals, and beverages, etc. These costs can add up so you want to weigh the benefits of an in-person group versus other methodologies and options.

Some participants will not want to endure the inconvenience of needing to travel to a facility. Sometimes when you tell a focus group participant they not only have to participate in a 2-hour session, but they also have to travel 30 minutes, the reward may not be worth it. This is why it is crucial to have a focus group facility in a central location and near major highways (for participants) and an airport (for clients).

In-person focus groups require the participant to live or work nearby in order to make them successful. Many companies have a global reach these days, meaning they serve a large market of customers across the world. Conducting research at 1 or 2 specific locations limits the ability to obtain a comprehensive view of their target profile.

According to Fortune Global 500, the U.S. alone has 126 global companies. Would a focus group in one city really demonstrate a broad view of their customer or prospect base?

Likely not.

The Growth and Globalization of Technology

Technology and globalization have opened doors that many years ago would have been closed for market research.

Fun facts: According to Worldometers there are over 7.6 billion people in the world and according to U.S. Small Business Administration in 2018 there are 30.2 million small businesses in the United States and 2.1 million small businesses in New York State alone. Is it time market research shifts with these trends when it comes to qualitative market research and focus groups?

Online focus groups are a new and emerging trend in market research. I have to admit, I am a fan. With user-friendly platforms and low-cost memberships, it has become easier than ever to reach participants online.

For example, two platforms which are low-cost and user-friendly are Zoom and Webex. They are easy to set-up an account and can host up to 1,000 people through live video on a single call. Focus groups typically range from 5 to 10 participants, so with a lower-level membership, it is easy to host small groups like these.

Advantages of Online Focus Groups

Online platforms are less expensive than utilizing a focus group facility. Participants that attend a focus group at a facility typically make $75 to $250 for their participation, but when travel is not required the payment to the participant can be less, saving money for the company paying for the market research project.

By conducting focus groups online, the research is not hindered by location. Participants can be located anywhere in the world. As long as they have an internet connection, they can be present for the focus group in an online setting.

Global companies with global consumers have the ability to conduct research with a global representation of their ideal client with one focus group, instead of many conducted in multiple cities. Again, it can be more cost-effective.

Disadvantages of Online Focus Groups

Without being face-to-face in a live room, the moderator is not as capable of noticing nonverbal cues as well. It is also more difficult for participants to interact with one another and prompt side-discussion that can provide unprompted insight. We've all been on conference calls via phone and online where participants constantly interrupt one another which creates some awkward transition and silence. Imagine this with a group of 10 where all want to offer feedback.

Although the capability to reach a global representation is possible with one online focus group, working with a multicultural group representing a global market could lead to language barriers during the interview process. If a participant represents a population in which English is a second language, the understanding of the group questions could be impacted, resulting in inaccuracy of answers and unreliability of the research.

Face-to-face interviews would allow for the moderator to notice nonverbal cues displaying the participant may be confused or uncomfortable due to a language barrier more easily, in comparison to one of ten small squares from a live feed on a computer screen.

In Summary

There is always power in personal, in-person connection, but technology has changed the marketplace tremendously over the last 20 years. Focus groups are an invaluable tool in market research and that will never change, but the growth in online focus groups cannot be ignored. All organizations must weigh the pros and cons of each.

It might make more sense for small or midsize businesses with regional customer-bases to conduct in-person focus groups. It would seem odd if a small local credit union chose to conduct online focus groups. However, online focus groups may make more sense for larger corporations.

Will technology and online focus groups every replace traditional focus groups? Only time will tell.

Contact Our Market Research Company

Drive Research is a focus group firm in Syracuse, NY. We recruit, moderate, host, and report on all types of qualitative market research for our clients. Interested in a market research project with our focus group firm? Contact us below.

Message us on our website
Email us at
Call us at 888-725-DATA
Text us at 315-303-2040

Focus Groups